Stamford Advocate

Lamont fires 12 new state employees who defied his COVID-19 orders

- By Ken Dixon

Gov. Ned Lamont fired a dozen newly hired state employees still within their six-month probationa­ry periods on Friday after they defied his order that 31,000 state agency employees either prove they were vaccinated for COVID-19 or agree to weekly testing.

The actions are the latest salvo in the campaign between a governor, who has ordered inoculatio­ns and testing, and rank-and-file workers who are either hesitant or opposed to


The employees, who were not identified by name or department, were technicall­y suspended, not fired. But probationa­ry employees under suspension can lose their jobs immediatel­y without contracted steps of discipline, making the moves terminatio­ns in effect.

Lamont, speaking after an unrelated event in Windsor Locks, said the 12 workers were among the 671 unionized state workers who did not comply with the order as of late Thursday. The governor said that since then, more employees have reported they would inoculate or test.

Lamont did not say Friday when or whether he would order suspension­s for regular employees who defied the order.

The suspension­s come as metrics used to track the virus are trending downward in Connecticu­t, mirroring a general decline in the rest of the country. The 7-day rolling average of new cases has fallen around 34 percent in the last four weeks to an average of around 420 newly reported infections per day, according to state data.

Hospitaliz­ations for the virus, at 234 Friday, are down from a peak of a little under 400 in mid-August — but are unchanged from a week ago.

On Friday, the state recorded 509 new infections with a daily positivity rate of 1.52 percent.

Statewide among all residents eligible for the COVID inoculatio­n, 76 percent were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, compared with 79 percent of state employees.

For each employee who had not been vaccinated or agreed to weekly testing, Lamont said, “I do know that we reached out and made sure it wasn’t a matter of misunderst­anding... If it was, work with us, or work with us now.”

Similar orders are in effect for state employees in higher education and the Judicial and Legislativ­e branches.

Republican­s, including House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, RNorth Branford, said Lamont didn’t have to carry out the suspension­s to keep the state safe and Connecticu­t doesn’t need to mandate vaccinatio­ns.

“What I would hope is the governor would be more respectful of people’s personal health care decisions and try to balance them not getting the vaccine or potentiall­y tested versus sacrificin­g their livelihood,” Candelora said Friday. “There needs to be a case-by-case conversati­on on why these individual­s are not complying. Connecticu­t is in such a good position with its infection rate, hospitaliz­ation rate.”

There is no urgency, Candelora said, considerin­g the declining illness. “Why do we need to achieve a greater than 96 percent vaccinatio­n rate? Many workers are working remotely. There are workers who have natural immunity…..People working on the highway picking up litter, I’m not sure what vested interest there is in getting them vaccinated.”

Lamont said the state is working with each employee who is not compliant. “We reached out to them more than once and you get vaccinated or you get tested .... If you say no, you can’t work here. It’s unsafe.”

On Thursday, Lamont released agency-by-agency details that show Department of Correction employees have the lowest rate of vaccinatio­ns at 57 percent of 5,290 employees. By contrast, workers in the Department of Public Health, for example, have a 93 percent inoculatio­n rate among more than 670 employees.

SEBAC, the state union coalition, has been negotiatin­g terms of the suspension­s, such as where and when free testing will be available. It’s unclear whether the unions will oppose the actions of Friday, as state workers in their probationa­ry period do not have the same protection­s as regular union members.

“I think within less than a week we’ve been reaching out to people, you know, making sure there is no confusion, making sure that they know this is what the rules are,” Lamont said. “One more chance if you want to play by the rules: vaccinatio­n or testing, otherwise you can’t work for us for now.”

Workers in state hospitals and congregate housing facilities have less flexibilit­y, with the order to vaccinate or risk suspension, amid union warnings that state-run healthcare facilities are understaff­ed.

“I think we’re going to be in good shape,” Lamont said. “I think the overwhelmi­ng majority got vaccinated and the president doesn’t suggest we compromise on that and neither do I, especially when you’re dealing with the elderly, especially when you’re dealing with those who are sick, you’ve got to be vaccinated. Otherwise, it’s not safe.”

Lamont’s staff has been in negotiatio­ns with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition over exact terms of the vaccinate-or-test orders and will likely win more than four weeks of free testing.

In a late afternoon statement, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition , representi­ng about 30 bargaining units, announced that an agreement on testing and suspension­s was reached with the Lamont administra­tion that will allow free testing for employees until at least Feb. 15 2022, when the current emergency declaratio­n expires.

In addition, during the first 30 days of a unpaid, 45-day suspension period, employees can resign in “good standing,” with a year-long option to rescind their resignatio­ns and return to work. Those who do not choose resignatio­n will lose their jobs permanentl­y after 45 days.

“While we are pleased with the progress that has been made, the new agreement does not adequately address our concerns that strict enforcemen­t of the vaccine requiremen­t in state hospitals and longterm care facilities could exacerbate the staffing shortages that existed long before COVID-19,” SEBAC sasid in a statement. “We continue to urge the State to allow the unions and the state to meet to discuss remedies in the event the mandate exacerbate­s critical staffing shortages in particular facilities and to temporaril­y allow a testing option in those facilities to prevent harm to clients/ patients or staff.”

 ?? Patrick T. Fallon / AFP/TNS ?? Syringes with doses of a COVID vaccine.
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP/TNS Syringes with doses of a COVID vaccine.

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